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San Luis Obispo Bridge House

West Edge Architects was asked to design a 2,300 SF three-bedroom, 2-1/2 bathroom residence on a heavily wooded property that is bisected by a seasonal stream. Strict adherence to the zoning limitations on the site, which include setbacks from the stream in addition to more standard height limits, front, side and rear yards, left little available footprint for a house. The design that resulted divided too little floor space over three floors and exceeded the height limit anyway.

To overcome these challenges, we asked: Instead of building next to the stream, why not bridge over it? The only parts of the house that need rest on the ground are the two car garage accessed from the entrance drive, and the structural supports on the far bank (both of which are outside of the stream setbacks). The body of the house is lifted up high enough to permit  sunlight to penetrate to the stream bed below. This would  facilitate plant growth along the stream while placing the living spaces directly in the tree canopy. A spiral stair from a deck at the far end of the house provides access to both a roof deck above and to the ground below.

The living area of the house  is created by the space between the two, story high trusses that span the length of the house. The exterior enclosure of the house is entirely supported by the trusses. This allows  the pattern of windows and solid panels to be freely composed, framing views down the stream and to the sky between openings in the tree branches. Once the trusses were in place, the entire construction could be staged above the ground, without disturbing the site any further. The client, who was trained as a landscape architect, planned to restore the stream bed, which had been degraded by some thoughtless dumping and many season of built up debris.

The design solution responded to both the living requirements of the clients and the spirit of challenging planning ordinances, imposing minimal impact to the ecology of the site and stream. The materials for the house were chosen both for their compatibility with the site and to minimize the overall environmental impact of the construction.  The wood trusses and the cladding were planned to be made of  either reclaimed timbers or be FSC certified lumber. Finishes and coatings were to be minimized or not used at all.



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